Awards Daily talks to music composer Chanda Dancy about her score for Sony Pictures’ Devotion and how it perfectly emulates the sound of flying.
When Black Label Media was searching for a composer for Devotion, Chanda Dancy’s agent urged her to put her name in the hat.
“I was like, ‘Here goes nothing!'” says Dancy. “I sent in a demo of cues from other shows and films that I worked on, and then they sent me the script, and then I got a meeting with [director] J.D. (Dillard), and the rest is history I guess.”
Dancy very quickly felt inspired by the script and the story, about the first black Naval pilot Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and his friendship with Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) during the Korean War, and wrote the first character theme right away.
“The very first character theme that was written was the scene where Tom crashes his plane on purpose. We call that the Devotion theme. That cue itself is called ‘Measure of a Man,’ and it’s essentially a hymn to positive masculinity. What does it mean to be a great man that people can depend upon? And that was the very first cue from the script. The script was that amazing for me in that it affected me that much.”
The Devotion team would send over dailies to Dancy, and the second cue she wrote was the battle scene involving planes diving.
“J.D. wanted some cool experimental things that sound different, that when people hear it, they know that it’s from the film Devotion. So I was like, okay! How about we emulate the style of planes?”
Dancy explains that the Corsair plane, which is featured in the film, has a specific sound when it dives, called a dive whistle.
“You knew a Corsair was coming out of nowhere if you heard [makes a whistle sound]. The orchestra is essentially mimicking that sound of the wind, and the brass is doing the sound of the engines.”
In order to make the music sound like flying, Dancy incorporated a series of elements that all work together like a machine.
“The first is the exhilaration of flying; there’s a main theme that soars above. Then, you have the strings and wind doing [sings staccato sounds] that reminds you of a fast machine pumping along. Then, you have the brass. When they play their low note, it sounds like a plane engine revving. Then, you have a bed of synthesizers—created sounds that I created in Pro Tools—that go with each one of those elements to make it sound even bigger.”
While most films and music editors work with a temporary score, or a score they edit footage to until the original score is complete, there was no temp score for Devotion.
“J.D. said, ‘I don’t want to hear anyone else’s music. I want this to come exactly from your brain.’ That was really amazing!”
But it was also a bit of a challenge, especially when they went to show the film in early screenings.
“When they show the film for preview audiences and producers, you gotta have a score. But since there was no temporary score, it WAS the score. So I had to mock up the actual score on the computer of me playing the violin. However, you have to make it sound good enough for a theater. It can’t sound like crappy stuff from your computer speakers. So I got score mixer Alvin Wee and he’s a total wizard. He can make computer sounds and samples sound large and epic. He was mixing from the very beginning, which is a very unusual thing for a score mixer.”
In addition to being inspired by the sound of Corsair planes, Dancy added some EDM into the mix, so to speak, at the urging of Dillard.
“The battle scene has a kick drum that totally sounds like it’s inspired by Gabber and that was on purpose. And then there are also moments at the end of ‘The Lighthouse,’ after the orchestra ends. There’s this synthesizer sound, an ethereal sound that I was inspired by EDM as well, a softer trance kind of sound.”
2022 has been a big year for Dancy. Along with Devotion, she also scored the documentary Aftershock and the upcoming Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody. Just as Devotion’s score mimics the thrill and passion of flying, Dancy also approaches these projects with love.
“It was helping the audience feel empathy and love for our fellow humans that went through what they went through. That was just the first way to approach [Aftershock]. [With IWDWS] You get to know more about the icon herself. Again, a score inspired by love—love for Whitney and her genius and paying proper respect to how amazing she was.”
Devotion is in theaters everywhere November 23.